4 August 2011

Well at least we'll know for next time...

or "Never the Wain' shall meet"

Being in the area and free of other commitments, Ruth and I decided to head for the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, where Wainstones crag held 'The Sphinx', a top 50 (top 50 of what, I never did become clear on) route that Ruth had a hankering to tackle.

Now, a tip for adventurous types heading for crags that no-one in the party has visited before - do your frickin' preparation work! I think I thought Ruth knew the lie of the land. She didn't. I'd spoken to a local earlier - having visited the delightful village of Great Ayton for pie, ice cream and some library defending - and I had the GPS on my phone, but still... Well, all will become clear.

Setting off through the woods from Clay Bank car park, we swiftly found ourselves regretting our choice of path and turning around to try the other way. As we did so, it began to rain - particularly galling after such a hot day. As we reached the edge of the woods, a slabbed path stretched away towards a ridge of rock, which we presumed was our goal - perhaps we weren't considering this clearly enough, given the increasing rain. As the path topped out the moor, we decided that we were too high - peering over the ridge, we could see a fire road skirting the edge of the woods, as well as several boulders.
The rain was persisting at this point, so a scramble down the ridge seemed like the most adventure we were going to get, so we set off down what was more or less a slope of moss, heather and previously land-slid mud. Although this was largely mishap free, it did afford us a look at the rocks we had just dropped down from - and they didn't look anything like the ones we were seeking. Checking the map in Ruth's guidebook further, we realised that this unnamed ridge was just that - too broken up by greenery to be a reasonable climbing venue, it seemed that Wainstones was to be found further along and around this ridge. Below the paved path of the moor top and above the fire road of the woods, we nevertheless continued along the line of the ridge. Presently we caught sight of Raven's Scar crag and, cowed by the prospective distance we would need to fight through the incessant heather, we decided to turn back and pick up the fire road.

Now, this move was one of uncertain direction - in physically turning back, we considered calling time on the night. Fortunately, the improving weather, detailed review of the guidebook and easy appeal of the fire road helped us decide not to give up, to at least get a look at Wainstones so we would know for next time, and that others might learn from our mistakes. We soon found ourselves immediately below Raven's Scar, and ignored any temptation to settle on that. Soon after, a small path veered up and left from the fire road, and Ruth contemplated whether this might be the way to our crag. Cartoon style, I decided to run at it, and sure enough it led to a stile and then a path rising to a crag that was distinctively the one we sought.

Ruth has been trying to get me out of my socks for some time, and the sodden state they were in tonight left me little choice. Harnessing up for The Sphinx, Ruth was happy to allow me to lead-belay - this was much appreciated, as my lead-belaying had previously been limited to a couple of attempts indoors, and this comfortable approach to it actually helped me relax into the role. After chopping and changing her first two pieces of gear due to height issues, and then being battered by the potent winds, Ruth shied from tackling the high traverse that made up the Sphinx's most notable route - one for another day, one with more time, more climbers, less wind and a quicker walk-in! Still, the route she took was no stroll, as I found out when seconding - though notice I mention taking my socks off, but not putting my shoes on... Don't know for sure if being barefoot added much to the grade, but it was an interesting experience, and one I'd recommend.

The Sphinx. He really is!

After a bit of trouble retrieving a cam, Main Wall caught my eye, with a significant crack up the right of it's towering face. As I approached, however, it was the smaller yet more evenly placed holds at the left of the slab that caught my eye. Both were eventually conquered, with the top-outs being the hardest part of each, and the barefootedness making for some interesting moves. Ruth also tackled the (vdiff) crack, but declined the left arete on discovering that it was a severe - clearly my lack of comprehensive route knowledge had also deprived me of any fear.

With the clock creeping past nine, we deemed this to be enough, and enjoyed a leisurely walk back along the path we should have stayed on earlier... but then, if we had, we would have arrived at Wainstones in the middle of the rain, and may even have truly given up. So I guess, given that I'm sitting here writing about it, that things turned out pretty much for the best after all.

A fine venue, with splendid views.

More photos

Map of the walk-Out
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